by Lindsay Oesterritter
Namaste: Everything that is good in me bows to everything that is good in you. This is the customary greeting for hello and goodbye in Nepal.
After finishing my undergraduate degree, a good friend and I decided we were going to take a year and travel. Following a quick debate we decided on the Himalayas and Nepal. I worked full time for six months and saved enough money for flight and tightly budgeted travel. We also agreed to incorporate time for India and Thailand, but three of our five months of travel would be spent in Nepal.
Using Katmandu as our starting place we stayed with friends who had moved there with the Peace Corps. Along with Katmandu, we spent seven days hiking Langtang to help prepare us for our 28-day trek in Annapurna. We spent several weeks in small mountain villages working with Nepalese children and teaching basic English. One of the families in the village housed me, and throughout those weeks I travelled by foot to the homes of several families associated with the school.
This is a time in my life that I think about often. To put it simply, this trip changed my life. It was during this adventure that I realized I was going to pursue being a clay artist. I understood for the first time the fortune of being born in America, and the luxury of choice that came with that. I saw poverty at a level that I had never known before, and I also witnessed how communities worked together to make sure everyone was cared for. If one member had a fruit tree in their backyard, everyone in the village would eat fruit. I lived without electricity or plumbing for the first time, and the sunrise and sunset started and ended my day. I hiked to 17,600 feet and tested my own mental and physical limits.
The mountain paths in Nepal were active with locals going through their daily routines, carrying in supplies, visiting a neighbor, or working on that day’s harvest. Roads do not connect most of the villages. Instead, porters make their living carrying goods from one town to the next. Unlike how we view hiking in the US, where you go to the woods to escape your daily life or hike several hours to retreat to backcountry camps; in the Himalayas, Nepalese hike two hours to get to the market square. School children commute like this to get to their classroom. The beauty and harshness of the Himalayas is very much the backyard and trekking long distances is the daily routine for the villagers that live in Nepal.
In light of the earthquake in April and the continued tremors through May, I have been thinking a lot about Nepal and the people and communities that I shared this time with. Some of the places I visited were directly hit by the earthquake, causing avalanches in the Langtang valley and destroying many heritage sites in Katmandu. With my life-changing experience among these strong, generous people in mind and to continue to raise awareness for the hardship created by the recent disasters, I wanted to share some photographs from my trip. For those who are interested, I recommend learning more about the amazing efforts of Clay for Nepal, http://www.clayfornepal.com/. While the ceramic auction for Clay for Nepal has passed, they are still accepting donations.